Rarely has Alvaro Velasco been so willing to miss a flight in his life.
The Spaniard was but five minutes from Guangzhou airport, where he had intended to board a plane bound for Australia to compete in the ISPS Handa Perth International, when he received a call telling him that, due to a player withdrawal, he was now in the field for the Foshan Open.
Having given the signal to turn around to his nonplussed taxi driver – who could have been forgiven for questioning his passenger’s sanity – Velasco was on his way back to his hotel to prepare for this week’s US$350,000 tournament, which is the third last event of the 2013 Challenge Tour season.
Under normal circumstances, Velasco would have been only too happy to tee up in Perth. But as he is currently 56th in the Challenge Tour Rankings, and so needs to climb 11 spots to claim his place in the season-ending Dubai Festival City Challenge Tour Grand Final in a fortnight’s time, he took the difficult, yet understandable decision to remain in China.
The 32 year old explained: “It was a tough decision, but I was just so desperate to play here to try to qualify for the Challenge Tour Grand Final. I really appreciated the invite to Perth, and in different circumstances I would’ve loved to play in the tournament; but I had to do what’s best for my career and I have a much better chance of getting back onto The European Tour through the Challenge Tour this season.
“I met the people from the CGA [Chinese Golf Association] and the golf club this morning, because I wanted to thank them for giving me the opportunity to play this week. Now that I’ve been given a second chance, if you like, I really want to make the most of it.”
Velasco’s natural disposition is as sunny as his native Barcelona but, since winning the Challenge Tour Rankings in 2010, he has endured some tough times which have prompted a period of soul searching.
The nadir came in the summer of 2011, when he missed nine straight cuts in a nightmare spell which sapped his already fragile confidence levels.
Velasco regrouped on the Challenge Tour last term but, just as he was beginning to put together a decent run of results, injury struck and he was forced to miss the whole of September, effectively ending any hopes of securing a return to The European Tour.
He has again endured a frustrating campaign this year, citing a cold putter as the chief reason behind a return of just two top ten finishes on the Challenge Tour.
But, with a combined prize fund of US$650,000 up for grabs over the next two weeks, Velasco is hoping to save his season with a late flourish.
He said: “This year, I feel like I’ve been playing well, but not scoring well. I just haven’t managed to bring everything together at the same time. Always something in my game has let me down, and for the last few weeks it has been my putting. But I’ve been practising well at home recently, and I feel like my game is in good shape now so hopefully I’ve saved my best for last.
“Obviously top 45 is now the goal to get into the Grand Final, so I really need a good week here or next week in Oman to climb up the Rankings and play in Dubai. Then anything can happen. The course here is great and the conditions are perfect, so I’m feeling really good about the week.”